Yes, I have drunk deeply at the fount of American self-reliance. Like so many of my fellow citizens, I admire people who pull themselves up by their bootstraps and forge ahead with determination. I want to be one of those people. And I’m not alone. Most of us want to control our lives and our destinies. When we get in trouble, we expect to help ourselves out of it.
In the last couple of days, we’ve been focusing on how we can love God with all of our strength in and through our daily work. Today, we continue to reflect on the notion of strength, but from a different and, I would suggest, absolutely essential perspective.
In Psalm 58:6, the psalmist prays in reference to unjust leaders, “Break the teeth in their mouths, O God; LORD, tear out the fangs of those lions!” Should we pray like this when we face perpetrators of injustice? Should we ask God to break the teeth of unjust leaders?
Yes, by all means, let’s use the glorious sections of the Psalms to guide and enrich our praise of God. But, let’s also pay attention to the unkempt and unflinching passages that teach us how to praise God when our lives are painful and confused. Let’s allow the full voice of the Psalms to be read, heard, and sung in our personal prayers and in the prayers of our communities of faith.
In the hit musical Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton’s political opponents recognize that one of his most powerful assets is his close relationship with George Washington.
Yes, in early years of the United States, it was nice to have Washington on your side. But Psalm 56 offers something even better. You have God on your side, and that is nice, to say the least.
In Psalm 55, David affirms the reality of answered prayer. When David cries out to God, “He rescues me unharmed” (55:18). According to this psalm, God hears David’s prayer and responds in ways that satisfy David’s longings. What a fine rationale for prayer!
But this psalm says more about prayer than this. It also illustrates the paradox of faithful prayer.
There’s a sweet tradition that exists among certain communities. When a person, or a family moves into a new dwelling — whether that dwelling is owned, rented, or borrowed — the occupants of the dwelling invite the community to come and bless the house. Often, a clergy person is invited to lead the event, but that isn’t always the case. Nor is it actually necessary.
What good does it do to say to the Lord, “Hear my prayer, O God”? Let’s face it, if God is not listening, then he won’t hear or respond to that request. If God is listening, then asking him to listen is unnecessary. So why bother?
As we come to the end of another year, I’d like to suggest that it’s a good time for an annual personal review – a chance to reflect in-depth about the past year and to see how God has been and might yet be at work in our life and work. Psalm 32 is a great foundational text for such a reflective process.
For several years, I have used Psalm 90 as inspiration for end of the year reflections. Once again in 2016, I’d like us to turn to Psalm 90 as we are about to wrap up a year and start a new one.